Last night was the final POA Cycling Team Summer Series criterium. It is a good thing too. By 8:30 the darkness was settling in making it hard to see. Thankfully all the racers were off the course by then. However, it wasn’t the darkness that caused the wreck… it was the rain.
Perhaps it was because I knew the SC Championship Road Race is Saturday, but I had a hard time getting up for this crit. The facts that it was a race sponsored by my team and that my in-laws decided to come see me race had me cinching up shoes and climbing on the bike. My plan was to just stay with the pack and keep my effort to a minimum. The result was an almost best finish for the series.
Of course, taking it easy in a crit is a relative thing! By the halfway point I felt like pulling off. I was slipping off the back in the turns with a small gap forming and then working my way back onto the wheels in front. It was taking a bit of work to do that. Just a little after that, the rains came.
I did not want to be back there on a slick course, so I moved to the front. During the brief shower I stayed on the front or in the top five or so. This allowed me chose a better line going into turn four. The first time I went through my wheels hit a pavement patch that was pretty slick. It broke my rear end loose and I had to chase the bike out to the edge of the road. I avoided that spot for the rest of the night!
The rain eased and so did I. Suddenly, I was sitting in and feeling really good. “Don’t do anything stupid,” I told myself. “Saturday is more important than tonight.” I started to think about how I was positioning myself in the pack. This race could be a good learning experience.
I remembered something Jim Cunningham said at his criterium seminar. Stay on the wheel. If you ease off the wheel in front of you going into the turn, you are going to have to exert energy to catch back on once you are out of the turn. I started to concentrate on staying right there on the wheel in front through the corners.
Just that little adjustment made a huge difference! Rather than coming out of the turns dreading the work of trying to cover the 5 foot gap in front of me, I found myself being sucked through the corners. The only downside is that it takes an element of trust to do that. You are counting on the rider in front of you to hold his line and not go down.
The rains had moved through and the course was drying in spots, but turn four was still a little wet. At three laps to go, I started to move my way up toward the top five riders in the field. David Bright from Anderson and Peter Mathern had broke away and we weren’t going to catch them at this point.
Things were looking very good for me to have a top 10 finish. I was marking Jae Bowen – the winner of the omnium – as we moved around the final lap. As we neared turn four Jae and I lined up to come around the outside. My idea was to keep as much momentum through the turn as possible. That would give me a jump for the sprint to the finish.
Some riders came flying up to our inside. I eased just a bit to adjust my line and a gap formed between Jae and myself. Then I leaned into the turn. The riders to my left moved slightly in front of me. Then just as they were reaching the first part of the apex of the turn and I was still somewhat upright, one of the riders went down. He split between Jae and me.
Immediately the rider beside him went down as well. They were skidding across the wet pavement toward the outside of the turn. Jae barely escaped while I adjusted my line slightly and eased my brakes hoping to squeeze through the shrinking gap before they closed it off. However, the combination of changing my line and braking caused my rear wheel to break loose once again.
It was like slow motion. I wasn’t fearful – until it was over – and I was seeing everything that was happening in a matter of seconds, but my brain was analyzing it in detail. I knew if I kept trying to shoot the gap I was either 1) going to get taken out by the sliding rider, or 2) slide out myself.
Instead I gathered the bike and straightened up. This put me headed for the curb and the water retention area where a rider a couple of weeks ago went down and got messed up pretty badly. Thankfully, I had slowed enough so that after bunny hopping the curb, I was able to grab my brakes and keep from sliding down the embankment – or hit the stump I realized for the first time was there.
As I was hopping the curb, I could hear the sound of entangling bikes behind me. I’m still not sure how many racers were involved. I was just trying to get my bike stopped, back onto the course, and under power again. As I moved back on I got my feet on the pedals and started to go. Ugggghhhh. I had too much gear. However, I just pushed it up until I crossed the line.
Jae finished seventh. Based on where he was in relation to me as we entered the turn I am pretty sure I was on my way to a top ten – my best finish of the series. Still, as I crossed the line I was elated with whatever place I got. For once I was right there in an obvious crashing situation and I avoided it. What made me happy was that it wasn’t just luck. Each move I made had an intention and I was able to react to avoid the crash.
I imagine it looked pretty cool when I came out of the field and hopped that curb. Sure, I didn’t win – or even place that well, but I figured I get a few points for style. Even better than that, I didn’t break a shifter!